Critics of taxpayer funding for public media are on the rise; and for good reason. It’s time for public media to take their audience seriously.
Sieglinde Baumert, 46, from the small town of Geisa, in the German region of Thuringia, last year became the first person ever sent behind bars for failing to pay the license fee. This is a tax that all German households are obliged to pay to finance the country’s public service media, namely the TV channels ARD and ZDF, and the German radio.
Ms Baumert was sentenced to six months in prison. In April last year she was released from jail after two months, as the German public broadcaster dropped the case against her.
Increasingly, Germans are caterwauling about legal provisions forcing all households in Germany to pay €17.50 (US$21) a month to keep the country’s radio and TV in business. They say that they should be free to decide what media they want to fund. In 2015, the agency collecting the license fee in Germany issued over 25 million warnings to households who failed to pay this fee, an increase of about 20% compared to the previous year.
But Germany is not an isolated case. Controversies over the funding of public media are rife elsewhere.